This action funds an NSF Postdoctoral Research Fellowship for FY 2009. The fellowship supports a research and training plan entitled "Computer Simulations to Investigate Flapping Vertebrate Flight" for Jennifer Frank. The host institution for this research is Brown University and the sponsoring scientist is Kenneth Breuer.
This project investigates the lift and propulsion of vertebrate flight using computational fluid dynamic (CFD) techniques borrowed from aeronautical engineering. Animal locomotion through air and water is of great interest due to the variety of efficient propulsion mechanisms. In particular, the flapping flight of insects and birds produces agile maneuvers that cannot be explained with traditional aerodynamic principles. This research uses a numerical technique called large-eddy simulation, which is capable of simulating the unsteady, turbulent flow associated with flapping flight of vertebrates, especially larger birds and bats. These simulations give a better visualization and prediction of the unsteady fluid dynamics surrounding the wing than other methods, and thus a better understanding of how vertebrates produce lift.
An integral part of the training involves working closely with the evolutionary biologists and experimentalists who perform a variety of wind tunnel experiments with bats, as well as membranes and structures that model aspects of the animal's wing in flight. This close interaction aids in the modeling and simulation efforts and develops skills to better interface computational science with biological research. The interdisciplinary research broadens the Fellow's research expertise and helps develop collaborations with experimental biologists. It also provides valuable teaching and mentoring opportunities beneficial to a future academic career.